'Digital bridge' between brain, spinal cord helps paralyzed man walk again

Researchers in Switzerland have developed implants that provide a "digital bridge" between the brain and spinal cord, which have allowed a man to walk again 12 years after being paralyzed from the waist down in a motorcycle accident, The New York Times reported May 24. 

About a year ago, researchers implanted electrodes into Gert-Jan Oskam's skull and spinal cord. Using a machine-learning program, researchers identified which parts of his brain lit up as he tried to move different parts of his body. This brain-spine interface was able to bridge the disconnect between Mr. Oskam's intent to move and his body's response, bypassing injured areas of his spinal cord. 

The technology has allowed him to stand, walk in a relatively natural gait and climb steps or steep ramps with only the use of a walker. He has also been able to walk with crutches when the implant is turned off, suggesting signs of neurological recovery, researchers said. 

Mr. Oskam's case represents the first time researchers have successfully connected the brain to spinal cord stimulators in a human patient, though limitations remain. The implant system does not correct all spinal cord paralysis and would likely be unable to restore upper body function in patients. 

Researchers published their findings May 24 in Nature.

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